The Kiln of Kuwait

The first thing you notice about Kuwait most of the time, the only thing you notice is the heat. This is a kiln of a country. And it blasts a relentless, sand-dry wind that evaporates and withers everything inside. You squeeze your eyelids into slits, just to keep the balls underneath from losing their moisture, and turning into cracked marbles. Plans for walks or jogs quickly devolve into sluggish strolls. And with every breath, your throat feels more and more like a scroll of brittle parchment, unfolding.
I arrived in the country earlier today, on a nearly day-long flight from New York. And when I walked out of Kuwait International Airport, the billboard thermometer above the taxi stand read 39 degrees Celsius, or 102 Fahrenheit. This was at six oclock in the morning.
After a mix-up with my bags theyre still somewhere over Europe, apparently a taxi took me to my hotel. It’s an isolated, heavily-guarded Hilton resort, hugging the coast of the Persian Gulf. Oil tankers sit in the distance. Hundreds of beach-chairs and thatched umbrellas and neo-Arab tents line the beaches, which are kept immaculate by Indians and Thais in purple jumpsuits and bright blue overalls. Kayaks are stacked neatly against stucco chalets. But the fuss is mostly make-work. There are no footprints on the shore. And nobodys using the boats. The heat forces almost everyone indoors. Outdoors entertainments for hundreds, maybe thousands, go untouched. Its a Bellagio filled with a bed-and-breakfast-sized clientele. A ghost town.
The only exception is the pool, where about fifteen guests have gathered. Bikini-clad, modern women swim in make-up and designer do-rags. The religious ladies get wet, too — in chadors and neon pink baseball hats, playing in the shallow end with their children. Burning Spear pumps from the bars sound system.
By now, its nearly six in the evening. The sun is sinking beneath the hotels mirrored walls. But whoevers stoking Kuwaits hundred-foot furnace hasnt let up at all. If anything, its feels even hotter than it was at the airport this morning. To me, that’s an awful omen. Because, very soon, Im going to have to face this heat wrapped in Kevlar and ceramic plates, with bullets ringing in my ears and the fires from roadside bombs burning nearby. Tomorrow, I leave for Iraq.

  • Scott

    ‘Because, very soon, Im going to have to face this heat wrapped in Kevlar and ceramic plates, with bullets ringing in my ears and the fires from roadside bombs burning nearby.”
    You’re right about the IBA… it makes the heat much worse! But if you have bullets ringing in your ears and fires from roadside bombs nearby, I’d suggest the heat will be far from the center of your attention.

  • J.

    I’m curious, as you’re embedding with the Army, are you getting an M40 promask to carry along? Just wondering if that guidance is still in effect. Stay sharp, stay safe, watch out for rocks with wires…

  • ARC

    I was there (Kuwait & Iraq) in ’04. After carrying the pro mask on my first trip into the IZ I realized it was just extra weight and didn’t carry it on any of the other missions.
    The highest recorded air temp while I was in Kuwait was 132. However it seemed worse in August/September when the temps droped to the 110s/120s but the humidity picked up. The IBA will definitly make it worse but when the danger is on I don’t know of anybody that minded wearing it.

  • JSAllison

    The heat in July is breathtaking, literally.
    Driving the coast road to work in the morning there’s a chemical smell as you pass the various tank farms. Depending on what they’re burning off, the burnoff towers can be rather photogenic before the day becomes incandescent. There’s almost a purplish cast to the air and the sea is usually dead calm. In the evening the breeze shifts and you feel like you’re the guest of honor at a clambake as the humidity heads for the high ground.
    There’s a species of bug there, ladybuglike in shape although an inch long and glossy black with a pebbly finish that outnumbers the native population (including sheep). We’d sweep them away from the tanks because you just get tired of stepping on them. They make the sand look like it moves.
    After expending much brain power to pick up a rudimentary knowledge of arabic I discover that Arby’s in arabic is…wait for it… Arbys… An occasional visit usually takes care of my fast food jones. I did have the local Pizza Hut on speed dial and was such a good customer that they started sending along complimentary goodies of various sorts. I never did manage to sell them on the idea of sheeplovers and goatlovers pizza, though.
    Star Sports out of Mumbai would be the local equivalent of ESPN and I actually managed to figure out cricket. I prefer the one day limited over matches over the 5day tests, a more offense-oriented game. Blame my impatient American orientation. If I managed to figure out rugby I believe that it has an offside penalty, thus making it unwatchable, just like hockey, soccer…or perhaps I just didn’t get it figured out…
    Having my nose and ear hair set afire at the barber is something that I surprised myself that I actually got accustomed to. (Take that, Sir Winston). The other bit of uncomfortableness was wondering just which razor-wielding barber was an Iraqi or had family in Hamas…
    If it’s a big wedding weekend think about staying under cover. Those pretty strings of pink lights arcing skyward are tracers, and they will be coming down, somewhere.
    Even so, if I could hook up with an employer that didn’t insist on treating me like they had me over a barrel, I’d go back.

  • nibaq

    Welcome to Kuwait, and I really hate to tell you this but today is a “cool” day. We have a dust strom and that brings wind, and covers the sky with nice dust particles thats acts like shade.
    Average temp around this time is 110F+ (43C) and will hit 121F (50C) and higher in the shade in the afternoons.
    Oh and that Hilton on weekends (Thursday Friday) is a lot more packed and less clad.

  • Kevi

    Concur with ARC re august. People were sweating through their uniforms (ie they looked like they went swimming) in less than 2 hours if they worked outside.
    One morning we woke up and it was 100+ and foggy.
    Water would condense on tents and aluminum warehouses to the point that puddles formed overnight.
    It’s just a wierd climate.

  • The Lauge

    I’ve been to Kuwait and Iraq (Basrah region) a couple of times.
    One of the best descriptions I’ve heard of what it feels like is (and kids, don’t try this at home. Remember, we are trained professionals): Take a hairdryer and a handfull of sand. Turn on the dryer full blast and point it into your face. Then slowly allow the sand to trickle into the air blast. Your face will now feel like it’s in a combination blast furnace and sander. Wellcome to the desert.
    If you look at one of NATO’s climatic maps of the world, there are only very few regions that are marked “Extremely hot and dry”. One of them is, you guessed it, Iraq.
    As for your bags: Remember what Bob Hope (I think it was) once said; “Flying is a wonderfull way of travel. I’ve been to nearly as many places as my luggage”. Glad to hear you got it back in time.
    Deliberately not saying something like “Keep cool”, I remain, yours respectfully

  • Rob Elsner

    The IBA isn’t so bad when you’ve worn it for a year. You get used to it. On convoy operations, you learn how to move around to get a draft in every area. Though, it’s like waving a hair dryer around, you just never feel cool. But really, your body figures everything out. And then winter comes and WTF was that, heh. It went from 110-120 down to 60-80. That’s COLD. If you get up near the Tikrit area (where I was at for OIF 1), check out the dust, it’s like 6 inches deep everywhere. Crazy. I’m sure it’s this way other places south of Balad, as well.

  • Christopher Allbritton

    Noah, my friend. Welcome to the desert. It’s hot as blazes here in Baghdad with a projected high of 119 degrees F. Jesus, that’s hot. And the ajaj, the duststorm that seems to have settled in over the city for the last two weeks is said, by Baghdadis, to make it cooler. Last night at the Hamra, I tried to sit at the pool, alone, but no dice. I was driven into the cheerless cafe by the heat.
    Welcome to Hell.

  • Hashim

    I know this is a rusty topic to comment on but anyways, whether you’re back to the US or still in Iraq, good luck!
    The heat is not so bad when you get used to it, neither is my country (Kuwait). ;P
    Just wanted to leave a comment since you have written that topic on my 21st birthday.

  • sean

    the highest temp ever on earth was 93,8 celsius in Iran in august 1933 during a heatburst phenomia.
    I such cases the actual airtemp can rise as much as 40 celsius!!

  • sean

    the highest temp ever on earth was 93,8 celsius in Iran in august 1933 during a heatburst phenomia.
    I such cases the actual airtemp can rise as much as 40 celsius!!